“Heritage” a.k.a. “Boiled” a.k.a. “Flour” a.k.a. “Cooked Flour” a.k.a. “Gravy” a.k.a. “Cloudburst” Frosting

Did I forget to mention it’s also called “mock buttercream”? This is something that a handful of readers have asked me about lately. It was little Jo’s turn to submit a cake for the cake wheel at last Friday’s fish fry, so it seemed like a good time to make it.

But just what is “heritage” a.k.a. “boiled” a.k.a. “flour” a.k.a. “cooked flour” a.k.a. “gravy” a.k.a. “cloudburst” frosting? Well let’s just say that if you happened to be a housewife during World War II, it was a recipe that allowed you to deliver the birthday cake you promised to your seven-year-old without using up the entire month’s butter and sugar ration.

It is a preparation that answers the age-old question: how do you make an icing and/or filling that’s thick, rich and spreadable without using lots and lots of expensive butter? And it does so ingeniously. In place of butter or meringue (which would have required equally hard-to-find eggs) it employs a cooked flour-and-milk goo, a sort-of béchamel sauce, to give the mixture body. The result is more than an ersatz frosting, it’s a stunningly silky and delicious low-cost reproduction of real buttercream — with half the butter and not terribly much sugar. It’s so good that it has adherents to this day.

So how do you make “heritage” a.k.a. “boiled” a.k.a. “flour” a.k.a. “cooked flour” a.k.a. “gravy” a.k.a. “cloudburst” frosting? Just like this. Put four tablespoons of flour (1 1/4 ounces) into a small saucepan.

Slowly add a cup of whole milk…

…whisking all the while.

Cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches the boil. After about 30 seconds of full boil, the mixture is as thick as it’s going to get. Allow it to cool about ten minutes…

…then apply some plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the mixture. Let it cool another fifteen minutes or so, then put the saucepan in the refrigerator. Let it cool down for about an hour.

At the end of that time, it should take on a consistency about like this:

Kinda yucky? Stay with me, it gets better. Combine two sticks (8 ounces) of butter and 7 ounces of granulated or powdered sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the beater. Back in the day, truly resource-poor homemakers used half shortening. Unless you’re a stickler for authenticity, there’s no need to do that.

Beat about 4 minutes until very light and fluffy.

With the mixer running, beat in the milk mixture.

Beat for about another minute until you have a sweet and silky faux buttercream (if it looks curdled or broken, follow the golden rule of buttercream and just keep beating until it’s where you want it). Beat in two teaspoons of vanilla extract, or the flavoring of your choice.

Does it taste exactly like buttercream? Darn close. And while it does have a vague “cooked” flavor to it, it doesn’t have the floury, cereal taste you’d expect. For those who find real all-butter buttercream too much to stand, you might be surprised at how much you like this. Mrs. Pastry, who can’t take full-on buttercream, loves this.

On the down side, it doesn’t spread on as smoothly as buttercream. But if you can live with that, you’ll have a new weapon in your arsenal to satisfy kids and/or grownups who prefer a less rich icing or filling. Have fun — and buy bonds!

159 thoughts on ““Heritage” a.k.a. “Boiled” a.k.a. “Flour” a.k.a. “Cooked Flour” a.k.a. “Gravy” a.k.a. “Cloudburst” Frosting”

  1. Wow, never heard of this before; but looks like it would be fun to try. Thanks!

  2. I’ve heard about this for years, but I’ve never actually tried it. My grandmother used to make it and I remember it was really delicious.
    I’ve heard that it was the original frosting for red velvet cake.

    1. I was just about to say the same thing about red velvet cake… my grandmother’s recipe for this is sitting in my kitchen right this moment, and she always called it “Butter Roux” frosting. L.O.V.E.

  3. I love this type of frosting. I heard of a version on a blog a while back and it’s now one of my go to recipes. I find buttercream too sweet and this is just right for me. I’ll have to try yours.

  4. To further clean up the taste, could xanthan gum be used as a thickener instead of flour? (Or does the flour serve some other purpose?)

    1. Hi Evan! The flour is critical to the thickening, and it really doesn’t impact the taste much. Cooking the flour mostly eliminates the cereal flavor and/or texture. You’d be surprised. But that’s an interesting idea!

  5. I have been making this frosting for my entire life and it has always been my favorite. I prefer it to cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake.

  6. This is a very nice frosting, very creamy and light when I made it. The only thing (like you mentioned) is that it’s not wonderful for decorating. I tried it on cupcakes and it wasn’t really stiff enough…. I’ve read that you can add confectioner’s sugar at the end to get it the right consistency but what’s the point? You might as well make regular sugar frosting.
    I would suggest people try this at least once and use it for more casual looking cakes and cupcakes, it really is tasty 🙂

    1. You certainly can add confectioner’s sugar, though it think it has a cleaner taste without it. That little bit of corn starch in the sugar is noticeable, I think. And to your point, if someone is going that route, a simply butter-and-sugar icing is probably a better option. Thanks for the note, Amanda!

  7. I love this kind of icing and use it when I don’t want the richness of a true buttercream. I much prefer it to the slightly gritty icing sugar icings. I wonder how it would react to adding some fruit puree?

    1. Fruit purée is a good idea, though my feeling is that it might thin it out a bit too much. I’d consider a little jam instead, plus a drop or two of the appropriate food coloring. Thanks for the note, Mary! – Joe

  8. I thought my grandmother invented this. In my house when I was growing up, this was known as Lillian’s Frosting. It is very good.

    1. Sorry to burst the bubble, Spiffy! However your grandmother certainly knew a good idea when she saw one. Thanks for the email! – Joe

  9. Hey Joe, if you frosted the cake and then let it chill in the fridge for a bit, could you then smooth out the frosting using parchment paper, or would the bubbles remain? I have made boiled frosting before, but it has been awhile and I am taking a Wilton cake decorating class right now and would love to find something else to use other than their pure shortening ‘buttercream’! I just need a frosting I can use that works well in a pastry bag for decorating.

    1. The bubbles are a built-in, I’m afraid. There’s nothing that’s going to eliminate that shaggy look unless you don’t cream the butter and sugar. The I fear you’d not only have less volume, but less body, though it might be worth trying just to see. But I don’t blame you for wanting to get away from shortening frosting. Try cutting it with half butter for a nicer effect, it should still hold up well.

      1. I solved the problem of grittiness and holes by cooking the sugar with the flour and milk. The result was silky and delicious, and as spreadable as buttercream.

        1. Interesting solution, but didn’t you lose an awful lot of volume that way?

    2. I use this icing all the time in my cake design and I heat my icing spatulas in a pot of hot water and wipe them dry and smooth over my cakes and the icing looks beautiful. Give it a try.

  10. I remember trying a recipe similar to this a few years ago when I was low on powdered sugar and butter. Due to my lack of patience in general, I made the mistake of not letting the milk/flour mixture cool completely.

    Needless to say, it ended up being a complete disaster, but seeing this post makes me want to try again. I’ve seen variations of this type of frosting used as a filling for Whoopie Pies, especially Red Velvet ones.

    I was curious, though: What are “minute holes?” 🙂

    1. Oh, I just meant they were tiny. Little itty bitty holes that the sugar granules poke in the butter. They give the frosting its volume. Thanks for the note, Andrew!

    2. exactly what I am going to use it for–Whoopie Pie filling. can’t stand the marshmallow creme taste!

  11. My hubby loves this frosting, it’s not as sweet as other frostings. 🙂 🙂

    Another name is Poor Man’s Frosting.

  12. I grew up with this icing, made with Crisco and not butter and flavored with Almond extract – it was THE frosting for my favorite Red Devil’s Food cake, which I am convinced is the forerunner to today’s red velvet cake. The shortening gives this frosting a funny, almost pearlescent sheen, but does not make is as horribly greasy as that stuff they call “buttercream” in the mass market bakeries.

    I really do have dreams about this frosting and the cake.
    Thanks for posting this. I reminds me it is time to make a Red Devil

  13. I love this kind of icing… when I can get it to come out right. I’ve been using a different recipe of course, but sometimes the sugar just never dissolved completely. Still tasty, but definitely crunchy from the sugar granules. Is that just a defect of the recipe I was using? If it is, I’m very much looking forward to using this one!

    1. Try beating the icing a little longer, it will give the sugar more time to melt. Otherwise, just switch to this recipe. You’ll be pleased, I think.

      1. Hah! I have been pleased with this recipe. I also think I know what went wrong with the previous recipe: the milk/flour mix had little enough moisture that a little bit of overcooking made it too dry to dissolve the sugar.

        Also, I experimented with mimicking cream cheese frosting with this. I added a little bit of greek yogurt and vinegar to the milk in order to create some tang. The end result is fantastically tasty :-).

        1. Fascinating. Buttermilk would be another way to go about getting that tang. Just a thought. Thanks for this, Mari!

          – Joe

          1. I would have loved to use buttercream, but they don’t make lactose-free buttermilk. Sad. But then, that’s why I can’t do cream cheese frosting either, much as I’d like to.

            At least I can imitate it with milk+vinegar :-). And greek yogurt.

          2. Ah yes, I see. I understand where you’re coming from now…

  14. Hi Joe,
    Can cooked flour & milk be used to thicken and stabilize whipped cream if your using it as a cake frosting?

  15. Hi, Joe,
    Do you think it would be thick enough for Parisian macarons? Seems like it…

  16. This looks absolutely lovely – will definitely have to try! 😀

    I was wondering – instead of the 2 sticks o’ butter, can you put in 1 bar of cream cheese instead? Or would that mess with the consistency of the frosting?

    1. I’ve heard that this does work with cream cheese. I haven’t tried it, but I can’t think of a reason that it wouldn’t. Let me know!

      And nice to hear from you, April! – Joe

      1. Hi Joe,

        So I ended up making this frosting with cream cheese instead (to accommodate my red velvet cupcakes – yum!), and while it was definitely tasty (no flour taste), the consistency of the frosting may have been compromised by the cream cheese. It was easily spreadable, but definitely not stiff enough to hold its shape after being piped as buttercream would have been. I’m not sure whether it was because the cream cheese was too soft (I had it at room temp before whipping it up with the sugar), but even after I had stuck the bowl of cream cheese-sugar mixture into the fridge to stiffen up a bit, it was still pretty soft and malleable after I mixed in the flour-milk mixture. I did, however use 3.25% MF homogenized milk (I wasn’t quite sure what ‘whole milk’ meant, and homogenized milk is the highest milk-fat containing milk up here in Canada without getting into the higher MF creams). Could that have leant itself to the less-than-stiff consistency?

        Anyway, despite the consistency, the frosting was still pretty darn tasty and paired wonderfully with the cupcakes. It was definitely a winner with my friends! 🙂

        1. Hmm…interesting. It probably isn’t the milk so much as the fact that cream cheese is 50% water. I wouldn’t have expected it to cause the frosting to get quite that runny, but evidently it did. At least it tasted good! Thanks for the note, April!

  17. Great post Joe! I’ve made frosting like this before but used a recipe called “ermine frosting”. Is it the same?

    1. There are so many names for this frosting it’s hard to keep up with them all — but it wouldn’t surprise me!

  18. Joe I had to comment on the frosting. We have also made this for years, Our recipe calls it Awrey Frosting, supposedly from the Awrey Bakery in the Detroit area, years ago. I use it for cupcake filling, it really pipes in nicely, also for whoopie pie filling and I always beat mine much longer.

    I make a spice cake or an apple cake and make this frosting with brown sugar and it is wonderful.

    I love your site, thank you for your hard work. This is my go to place when I am having trouble with a method, your descriptions are wonderful.

  19. We grew up believing this to be the traditional Waldorf Astoria Red Cake frosting…is it? and I must say I can’t think of RV with a heavy cream cheese frosting when there is this heavenly alternative!

    1. I haven’t heard that, but I’ll see what I can dig up on it. Very interesting…

      Also, I’m with you on cream cheese frosting. I can’t stand the stuff.

      1. I agree with Lori, this is the traditional Northern frosting to a red devil’s food cake or a precurser to today’s Red Velvet Cake.

        My grandmother made this cake for her customers and to serve in both the diner and in the commisaries she ran during WW2. She used straight shortening back then because butter was so hard to get.

  20. Me and my family love this frosting. Soo good. I am doing a wedding cake later this month and using it. I’m a little worried about how soft it gets after sitting out a few hours though. It’s unavoidable that it’ll be out for @ 6 hours before being cut. Hoping it’ll hold up! If you have any tips or tricks for me I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

    1. Cool temperatures are the best way to keep any frosting firm, but I understand when you say it’ll have to sit out (wedding cakes need to do that). The only thing I can suggest is to apply it fairly thinly and make sure the cake is supported with plenty of dowel rods so there isn’t any serious weight on the frosting layer. Best of luck with the project!

  21. Hi Joe,

    I’m so glad I found this! I have a huge bake sale coming up and this frosting would be so perfect. I just tried it and it’s every bit as amazing as you described! Thank you for sharing! I thought it felt a bit gritty even after adding the flour-milk paste so I beat it for a little longer. This turned out fine but I hope beating it a little longer doesn’t cause it to separate or anything? Also, how long before do you think I could make it and keep?

    1. Hey DP!

      Nice web site! Glad you like the frosting…it’s really a unique thing, isn’t it? But beating a little longer won’t do anything except perhaps add a few more bubbles…which would give it a fluffier texture. It will keep in the refrigerator for quite a while, but remember butter picks up off odors and flavors easily, so I’d try to avoid keeping it for more than a week. Let it come completely to room temperature before you try to spread it, of course.


      – Joe

      1. Thanks Joe! Can I say your website is totally godsent? Very few blogs/websites out there that spend so much time on technique. So flattered you liked mine. Making 3 batches of your icing tomorrow for a bake sale – family just cant get enough of it!

        1. Heritage frosting just might be making a comeback! Thanks DP! I’ll look forward to reading more of you!

          – Joe

  22. Usually Swiss buttercream is my go-to frosting because I like the silky butteriness, especially compared to the overly sweet traditional american buttercream. I used this for a savory pulled pork/cornmeal cupcake and added a bit of chipoltle seasoning salt to it for some kick and flavor and it was amazing. Subtle but creamy, I think this may be my new favorite!!

    1. Holy cow, Aryanna, that’a amazing. Talk about a creative new use for a classic component…very, very well done.

      – Joe

  23. Hi joe..

    I tried this recipe with margerine and soy milk,since I was making a birthday cake for a vegan friend. While the taste is rerally yummy, I find that the frosting tends to seperate (you can beat it to smoothness again, but if I leave it standing for a while, it starts to seperate again) I can see strands of cream. Do you know why this happen? Also while cooking the flour,how do you prevent lumps? I seem to find grannules of cooked flour on my frosting. Any tips?

    1. Hi Paul!

      That’s interesting. So you’re getting streaks of what look like milk? My guess is that it’s coagulated soy protein (a common problem with soy milk) but I’m not completely sure. My suggestion is to try a different brand of soy milk and see if the problem recurs. Different soy milks are treated and/or formulated differently when they’re made, and so behave different when they’re heated, exposed to acid, etc…

      As far as the lumps, the only thing I can say there is that you just need to make sure you whisk vigorously at the beginning. That should do the trick! Cheers and thanks for the questions!

      – Joe

      – Joe

      1. i used uht soy milk, and it looks like streaks of cream, and it feels like the frosting “sweat” -very thin film of liquid on the surface of the frosting.

        i will try using different non dairy milk and see if it makes a difference. but it shouldn’t be caused by the margarine right?

        1. I think you’re right that it’s not the margarine. Margarine is just fat, albeit of a different kind. It must be something about the soy milk, I’m thinking. I’d be willing to bet that it’s a solution of water plus tiny curds of protein. Basically a tofu broth.

          – Joe

          1. I know I’m very late commenting here, but I successfully made a great vegan version of this frosting using half margarine and half coconut oil. Just melt the oil very gently until there are no solid lumps, cream that together with the sugar, then add the margarine, then the flour mix (I used UHT soy milk and it was absolutely fine)!

          2. Nice, Emily!

            Thanks so much for writing in with this technique. Other readers will definitely appreciate it.


            – Joe

    1. I’d never thought of that. It’s certainly possible, even likely, that it will work. Try it and let me know what happens!

      – Joe

      1. Finally tried it out this weekend. I only used 2 tbs of cornstarch since I figured it has greater thickening power than flour. In the end, I found little gelatinous bits here and there the size of tapioca in the frosting that probably came from bigger gelatinous bits that got broken up when mixed. Maybe I should be sieving the milk/cornstarch mixture after taking it off the heat?

        1. Ah yes, that happens when dry corn starch gets suddenly mixed with a large volume of liquid. The outsides of any clumps gelatinize instantly, forming a coating that keeps the inside dry. My suggestion, if you’re going to use cornstarch (corn flour) is to make paste with some of the milk first, to ensure you don’t have any lumps in there to being with. That’ll eliminate the straining step and give you a more consistently performing recipe.

          Cheers and thanks for the email!

          – Joe

    2. Use rice flour, I make this icing gluten free that way for my customers who are gluten free, it works great!

      1. A couple of other readers have experimented with that as well and have had good results. Good to know it works for you as well!

        – Joe

  24. I just wanted to say, I have never made icing with 10x sugar.. this is the only recipe I have ever used!!!!! I LOVE this icing!!!!! I never had real butter cram icing but, to me this tastes almost like whipped cream..

    1. Great to hear it, V! Generations of home cooks swear by it. I use it myself and my kids love it. Not as rich as buttercream, but not as sweet as frosting.

      Thanks for the note, V!

      – Joe

  25. I love this recipe and used to have a chocolate version made with cocoa powder, but can’t find it after our various moves. Any thoughts?

    1. Sure Liz! Just add between 2 and 4 ounces of melted (can cooled) bittersweet chocolate. That should do it!

      – Joe

  26. Hi Joe! My husband LOVES cooked icing. His grandmother made it, and the recipe was passed to me when we got married. I’ve made it a few times following Grandma’s instructions, and while it was tasty, it would separate after a few hours and start running down the cake a little. My David confirmed that it always did this for Grandma too. I’m so glad to have your instructions! I think the main piece that her recipe card lacked was chilling the flour/milk. She had you beat it a bit to cool, but not chill. I can’t wait to try again and surprise my husband with a non-separated cooked icing! 🙂

    1. Hi Michele! Yes, the chilling is important. I think you’ll find that it will not only give you a firmer frosting, it will weep far less (if at all). Let me know how it goes!

      – Joe

  27. I think the Red Velvet Cake with Cooked Frosting arrived in the “Parade” magazine that accompanied our newspaper when I was a child. I faithfully made this recipe for Memorial Day each year from the time I was about 10 years old, and tinted some of the frosting red and blue to create the US flag on the 9 x 13 cake I’d baked. I believe the secret to the icing is to beat the mixture until there is no grittiness left from the granulated sugar (at least 10-15 minutes); it was always smooth and didn’t become greasy like buttercreams are apt to. I’m still making it (not quite as often) and still love this frosting with the cake- it just isn’t Red Velvet with any other topping for me.

    1. Hey Chris!

      Yes, I think a longer beating really helps. I’,m not sure I’ve ever beaten it that long. Maybe that would give me an even smoother texture!

      – Joe

  28. Hi Joe – what are your thoughts on a peanut butter version, I mean, do you think it would be tasty – and if so, how much PB would you add?

    1. I think peanut butter would work, myself. Try beating in about half a cup of smooth peanut butter. That works fine in conventional buttercreams!

      Let me know how it goes!

      – Joe

  29. I was thinking this might be a good way to introduce flavourings into frosting. I’ve been meaning to experiment with warming the milk with some sliced ginger and leaving it to steep, then using it in the frosting. Maybe even try tea or coffee beans or mint leaves for a completely different flavour to peppermint extract.

    Also, I use a slightly different method where you put the hot milk/flour gel into the blender and beat it on high until cool which stops the problem of a thick skin forming if you forget to put the cling-film on top (an all-too-common occurrence).

    1. As you know, I’m a big fan of infusions, so I’m right behind you! Keep me apprised of your experiments!

      – Joe

  30. Hi,

    I made this frosting today. We put it on homemade banana muffins and it’s quite delicious. I automatically mixed in creamy peanut butter to see if it’s a good “mix” icing and it was gorgeous. I’ll try lemon, coconut, coffee, etc. This is my new icing. **** Instead of waiting an hour….I poured the “gravy” into a small glass jar (and still covered surface with Saran). Then I buried the jar down in the ice-container in the freezer. 15 minutes later, it was done and the icing was amazing.

    1. Wow, sounds excellent. Let me know how your other experiments go, please. And I’ll try that tip!

      – Joe

  31. I’ve used flour but often use cornstarch to thicken the milk. They are equally delicious. Today I used limeade instead of milk to add a citrus flavor. Just too good to be true. It’s the only “buttercream” I’ll make, the other is just too sweet and takes away from the yummy flavor of the cake.

    1. You know Lynda, this has turned out to be one of the most successful recipes I’ve ever put up. And your cornstarch solution is brilliant. I’ll try that next time. And what a great inspiration on the limeade! Thanks so much for the email!

      – Joe

  32. Is it possible to add meringue powder to stiffen up this frosting? If yes, how much and at what point in the process. Thanks!

    1. Hey Leslie!

      I’ve never tried that, but I can’t think of a reason why it wouldn’t work. As for a quantity I don’t have one handy, but I’d try it in the same proportion you’d use it to thicken a mousse. Let me know what happens! 😉

      – Joe

    1. There will be some lumps usually, and those are often caused by large air bubbles. It can be a trick to balance thorough incorporation of the mixtures without beating in too much air, but I have seen very smooth version of this. Try beating by hand. That will probably help!

      Let me know!

      – Joe

      1. The best way I’ve found to insure a lump-free result is to reverse the process: 1-combine the sugar with the milk, extract and thickener (I prefer cornstarch or tapioca flour) and cook to create a paste. 2-turn the hot milk paste directly into a stand mixer and whip it until it is cool. 3-whip in the room-temperature butter one tablespoon at a time. The result is identical to the original version, save for a complete lack of lumps and/or graininess.

  33. My kids can’t eat refined sugar, or corn, so powdered sugar is out as a frosting ingredient. I have tried a version of this, and it is wonderful made with raw sugar. Tastes like whipped cream! We also need to avoid gluten, and I have found that this works fine with my gluten-free flour blend (millet-oat-sorghum-tapioca) as the thickener for the milk. Old-fashioned recipes like this provide so many more options for food allergy families like ours!

    1. Who knew you could manipulate this to such an extent! Thanks Kathy, great to know!

      – Joe

  34. I love this kind of icing! I’m on the hunt for a cream cheese icing that isn’t so sweet it makes you sick. Tonight I’m going to try a version of your recipe substituting 8 oz cream cheese for one of the butter sticks and use 1/2 butter and 1/2 Crisco for the other. Also, I may add in a bit of gelatin to see if I can get it so it can be nicely piped onto cupcakes. I’ve tried so many variations of cream cheese icing and nothing has worked out yet for piping. I don’t like the kind that has 4-6 cups of powdered sugar – tastes too fake. Hope it turns out!

    1. Definitely let me know how it turns out, Staarr. As you can tell from all the comments, this is by far the most popular frosting on the blog. Other bakers will be interested!

      – Joe

      1. Ok Joe, we have a winner! The icing tastes wonderful. The gelatin isn’t necessary. It comes out stiff enough to pipe onto a cupcake and tastes great. I added the gelatin in just to see what it would do – it changed the texture a little bit – made it a little bit lighter but I didn’t care for it. Thanks for your recipe and now you have my version of it for cream cheese!

  35. Wow,
    I just made this icing tonight and it is wonderful. Instead of letting my butter get to room temp I mixed it with the hot milk mixture. The flavor was awesome. I wanted a cream cheese icing so I ended up making this recipe plus 8 oz of cream cheese. I am glad I did not replace the butter with cream cheese and I used both. Of course since I did not let the hot milk mixture cool my icing was not a good consistency, but I will not be using it today so I put it in the fridge and after it cooled it still tastes like heaven and is perfect for piping on cupcakes.

  36. thank you, your recipe has changed my life! maybe a little over dramatic there but this truly is amazing stuff. have made it several times over the past couple months as i am a bit of a baker, and it works perfectly every time. variations i’ve tried have been cookies and cream (oreo crumbs folded in), maple and brown sugar, choolate and the one waiting to go on cupcakes for christmas dinner… eggnog! a trick to get the roux cooled seriously fast? grab three bowls that can nest inside each other. transfer cooked roux into one and cover directly with plastic. put ice in the other two and nest it between the ‘ice bowls’. cools it in about half the time! thanks again so much for a perfect recipe!

  37. I use this recipe with coconut milk, almond milk and butter milk, I have also for the gluten free people in my life or customers have used rice flour and it works just as awesome. This is the best icing ever.

    1. Fabulous, Irene! This recipe is showing itself to be almost infinitely flexible. Thanks so much for the very useful comment!

      – Joe

  38. I must try this recipe it looks amazing!

    I was wondering… Do you have a red velvet recipe? I searched your blog and didnt find anything. I don’t know where this bright red, red velvet cake came from. Isn’t the original red velvet cake a rich chocolate cake that was called red velvet due to the rich dark red brown color? It seems the new red velvet cake has nothing to do with the real thing. Or am I wrong about its origins?

    Thanks a lot!


    1. Hi Nuha!

      I haven’t put one up so far, but it’s been hot the last few years and it may be time. As for where it came from I’m honestly not sure. There are always plenty of stories about these sorts of foods in circulation. I’ll have a look around!

      – Joe

      1. I can’t wait for your red velvet recipe!! Thanks!
        This cake has been taunting me for a while because it seems like a totally different cake then the old version and nobody seems to know that it isn’t supposed to be bright red. I’m sure if I dig up an old recipe and make it nobody will realize its a red velvet! 🙁 I know I’m obsessing… I’m a bit if a perfectionist. 🙂
        But seriously I am waiting for your version even if it is bright red. 😉

          1. I just wanted to say I really appriciate the way you promptly reply and work so hard to fulfill our requests in such a great way! This is my favorite blog!

          2. Hey Nuha!

            Thanks, I do my best! And that’s a very, very high compliment. Thank you. Thanks also for the interesting info on red velvet cake. I’ll get after it probably in a week or so. I need to finish this fat series, then make some kringle and I’ll be a free blogger! 😉

            Cheers and more soon!

            – Joe

        1. I also read in “Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes” Book that “Many believe the name comes from the naturally reddish hue of cocoa powder, which is enhanced by a chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda.” Interesting don’t you think?
          But even Martha Stewart adds 1/2 tsp red gel-paste food color. At least her version isn’t bright red.

  39. Hi Joe! cant wait to try this frosting, just want to ask you if it could be made also with a gluten free flour (i.e. rice flour, cornstarch or similar) or not?
    I know gluten plays an iportant role in many preparations, this would turn as fluffy as the original one with regular flour?
    thank you!

    1. Hey Francy!

      I haven’t but many others have. Check out the comment fields on this post. This recipe is by far the most popular on the entire blog. People have gone hog wild with it.

      Let me know how it turns out!

      – Joe

    1. Try beating in about three ounces of a good quality dark chocolate (melted of course). That should do the trick!

      – Joe

  40. Hi – I just made another version of this recipe. I had never made anything like it before and wasn’t sure what to expect. While the flavor was very good, I had very small lumps of flour in the paste and am wondering how to avoid that happening in the future. I tried like heck to get them out before I refrigerated the mixture. It seemed pretty smooth at the time. It was very noticeable to me, but I just added sparkly sugar to the finished product on a red velvet cake and o one was the wiser!
    Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid lumps?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Kathleen! Tell me…were the lumps white and floury on the inside? That will help me understand what might be going on.

      – Joe

    2. Usually when I bump into those lumps, its either the milk was not room temp, or the mixture was not evenly mixed/whisked well enough. . Took care of the lumps by sieving it, : )

  41. I was wondering…how much gelatin would i need to stabilize this? I make this a lot, and it seems not to keep well in tropical weather..I’ve done a bit of research and most of the gelatin is for buttercream?

    1. Hey there! I’d start with two teaspoons and see what you think. Combine it with about two tablespoons of cold water, let it hydrate for five minutes or so, melt it in the microwave, cool it a bit, then beat it in!

      – Joe

  42. Hey! I tried this out with water in place of milk and it’s still wonderful! So, if I used water does this mean it’s o.k. to have at room temperature like American Butter cream which is non potentially hazardous?

  43. Okay, I have to add to this long list of comments and throw my game plan out there… I’ve made a similar recipe before but it’s been a while and I want to iron out the details for an upcoming birthday cake. I would love to double this recipe and use it for not only to fill and crumb coat the cake but also create piped frills on the side. I was thinking I would 1. cook only 12oz (I’m doubling but reducing) granulated sugar into the roux; 2. use a combination of high-ratio shortening and butter (to keep the color closer to white); 3. add 2oz of powdered sugar in at the end to allow crusting. I won’t be battling any issues with heat. What are your professional thoughts? Should I just go the gelatin route for stabilization? I am also open to just keeping the recipe untouched and using an American buttercream for decorating separately. I’m wondering if the two types will contradict each other and confuse taste buds since the frills will be all along the sides. I know its sometimes done but was interested in your two cents. Thanks in advance!

  44. The ‘butter cream icing’ has been in our family for generations as well; originated from my aunt who was married to a General who got it from who knows where, the commissary chef perhaps? It is my favorite, and works exceptionally well on Gram’s Chocolate Cake, or for a layered cake also. It spreads well, travels well, freezes well, and can be colored easily with food coloring for cupcakes. Almond is our traditional flavoring but any flavoring would be good. Julie presented her boss a three layered chocolate cake with this icing and decorated with fresh strawberries; it was a hit~!
    For those who don’t know, powdered sugar can be made by putting white sugar in the blender and blending until it’s powdered. Thanks for the blog Joe, it’s great~!

  45. hi! i’m about to make this for my sister’s birthday cake (i’m going to add orange zest to the butter/sugar stage).

    to reduce the grittiness, you’d need to beat it for a LOT longer than 4min. if you cream the butter and sugar long enough (10min or longer, depending on ambient temperature), the sugar crystals will dissolve into the butter.

    i remember being asked to cream butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon to this stage – took me 40 minutes!

  46. I make this icing and add wilton royal icing powder to it to give it some body. I don’t measure just dump a little in there. It doesn’t change the flavor.

  47. What do you use to stiffen this frosting. I used this for the carrot cake and it was a bit loose. It tasted great and looked great, but just a bit loose (and I weighed the ingredients). I figure this must happen from time to time due to temp of butter, room, etc. What do you suggest to stiffen? (I dumped 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, which helped, but…)


    1. Hi Jack! Make sure your flour mixture is fully gelled, just to be vigilant. But adding extra sugar is one way to go. More butter is another way to go, provided it’s not too hot!

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

      1. Hi Joepastry, I don’t know if you’re still checking this after all these years. I’ve been pouring over your site and think I’ve figured out why my attempts at this have ended up gooey and loose rather than firm. We’ve had this recipe since my mother started baking our birthday cakes when I was a child. When she made it, it was firm when the cake was chilled, but I couldn’t get it right after decades of trying, always gooey and loose. You mentioned in a couple posts about cooking for TOO long past the initial boil will de-gel the endosperm of the flour and break down the thickening power. In my misguided attempt to cook it EXTRA thick to combat the loose gooey frosting, it seems I must have actually made it worse. I haven’t tried it yet since reading your science about it, but I’ll be trying it soon – to only cook to 30 seconds after it boils and thickens, and no longer. My guess is Jack Loganbill may have either overcooked the flour/milk like I did, or even undercooked and not thickened it enough.

        1. That’s exactly it, Julia!

          Once a starch-thickened mixture comes to the boil, it’s as thick as it’s going to get. So once you see the bubbles come up, stir for 15 seconds or so to make sure the heat is distributed evenly through the pan, then take it off the heat. You should be good!



  48. I +1 the beating the living daylights of the butter. A good 10-15 minutes depending on the mixer will make it super smooth, even with cane sugar(use Moreno brand) which is a little coarser. I have a cupcake biz and this is one of my most requested frostings. It really is a lot like whipped cream frosting which is great for me since I can’t use whipped cream icing (home based biz).
    I’m a Southern girl so when it comes Red Velvet I grew up with cream cheese.
    Have had a lot of fun with this recipe: adding cocoa powder to the roux, infusing the milk with lavender or roses, adding all sorts of extracts. Making it gluten free with brown rice flour. This week made Vegan and Gluten Free with brown rice flour, almond milk, and coconut oil/palm shortening. Love the versatility of this icing

    1. Great stuff, Jasmine!

      Thanks so much for the note…you’re doing some amazing things with this frosting!


      – Joe

  49. This is my second time making this frosting. This time it filled the layers of red velvet cake jars that I gave out as Christmas gifts. My family went bonkers wih how much they loved it!!! Such a great recipe!

    1. Erin, this has unexpectedly turned into the #1 recipe on the blog. It has a simple, not-to-sweet, not-too-rich flavor that everyone just LOVES. I’m so glad I put it up a couple of years ago. Who knew a recipe from World War II would come back so strong?

      Thanks so much for the note. Have a very happy New Year!

      – Joe

  50. I just read the recipe on your website. I used this recipe for 30 cupcakes served at Christmas dinner last night. I piped the frosting tinted green onto the cupcakes with a large star tip to look like Christmas trees sprinkled with tiny non pareils for ornaments and a tiny star on top. The bottom of the tree was a circle of white frosting dipped in coconut before piping the trees in the middle. I have no problem with the frosting holding its shape or separating. I use a 50/50 blend of butter and shortening. They were beautiful served on a Martha Stewart Christmas tree cake stand. The cupcake recipe was a brown sugar pound cake by Martha Stewart. This is the best frosting ever. I’ve used this recipe since 1968. Back then the recipe called for shortening. I’ve only started using butter recently when I saw a recipe posted on the Internet. The thought never occurred to me!

    1. Fabulous, Marguerite!

      Wish I’d been there to see it. Thanks for the comment and congratulations on a project very well done!

      – Joe

  51. During late 50s early 60s, learned a simular recipe clone for Awery’s buttercream frosting. It called for half shortening, half margarine, vanilla, powdered sugar to taste and an egg white. Add food coloring, cocoa, or draw designs with toothpicks dipped in food coloring. Of course this was before we knew raw eggs were bad. I’ve made this without the egg white and its still good. No cooking.

  52. Hi Joe,
    I’m 60 years old and when I was a child, my babysitter would always make me a red velvet cake for my birthday. The icing she made was this frosting made with Crisco. It has always been my favorite and I still make it for my family and friends, even for just icing a plain chocolate cake. I was thrilled to see that many others are still enjoying this marvelous icing!

    1. In fact it’s now the most popular recipe on the site, Susan! Who knew?

      Thanks very much for the comment!


      – Joe

  53. Hi Joe,

    I have stumbled on your site quite a few times lately, and love it! I have been using a similar recipe for a while now – thank you for the different names, I was tired of calling this delectable icing “flour frosting”… I wanted to say that after mixing it, put it in the fridge for about 15 minutes and it will be very smooth if you want to pipe with it (I don’t get any air bubbles.). I use a 1M tip and it is simply gorgeous! Thanks for the great post!

  54. Hi Joe,
    Just tried your recipe, and I think I’m in love. I didn’t even have a cake in mind when I made it, but when I saw it I just had to try it. I have been looking for a simple-enough-for-a-nonprofessional, good light-colored frosting for YEARS. I despise American butter-cream; I think the only thing worse is canned frosting. I especially hate it when the powdered sugar is a little older, and you can taste the rancid corn-starch. Ffleggh! Chocolate frosting is a little easier, because chocolate can disguise a myriad of ills, but I have never been able to make a non-chocolate frosting I liked.

    But, now! Now!

    My kids and I were standing there in the kitchen, just spooning it right off the beaters, and going, “Mmm. Mmmm.”

    So, I did put my own personal spin on it, (because there’s nothing like reading the instructions for something you’ve never done before, and instead of saying, oh well, the first time I try doing this maybe I should just do this the way they say to do it rather than trying to improvise— Instead of saying that, saying Huh! What if….) And what I did was, 1) Instead of milk I used a mixture of milk and cream, because, well, cream; 2) I added about 1/4t salt to the roux; and, 3) as a number of your other commenters did, I cooked the sugar with the roux, but before I added it I caramelized it.
    Oh. My. Goodness.

    So how does it feel to have made the world a better place?

    1. Ha! You’re great, Beyla. I never cease to be amazed at the interest in this recipe. And it certainly wasn’t my invention. Industrious WWII-era housewives perfected this decades ago. I’m just doing my bit to popularize it again…and wow has the reaction been amazing! Keep up the great work and thanks for the email!

      – Joe

  55. I’ve never seen this anywhere but in my mom’s recipe box. She calls it ‘white fluffy’ frosting. Its my absolute favorite!

    1. Hi Am!

      This is the most commented-on post in the history of Joe Pastry. People just love this frosting. The funny thing is — as you sort of imply — most people believe it was a family secret recipe. It may well have been at one time, though it’s funny how many good memories there are of this. From what I can tell it’s catching on again!

      Thanks for the comment,

      – Joe

  56. I am new to the site, so this post is new to me even though it is not. But I had to tell you what I know about this.
    My ex-mother-in-law, who went through the Depression and WWII, tells me this is War frosting. It was a standard when I was growing up. And it is even more versatile than most know. The beauty of it is, what the real ingredients are. They are 1. A starchy thickener. 2. A liquid that can be cooked. 3. A solid fat. 4. Some sort of granulated sugar. 5. A flavoring if you can afford it.
    This translates into the following: if you are low on flour because you used it for the cake but have some cornstarch-use that but cut back the amount although if you don’t and it turns out thicker, it is no problem. If you have skim milk in the fridge, use that. If you are out of milk and someone found some cream in there, use that. Oh dear, not enough cream either, so extend it with water. If you are really bad off, water works. Heck, I wonder if the lady who was asking about fruit puree could use that for her liquid. We are out of butter but we have some lard. Well, that works. But it has to be at least as fatty as butter and be solid. One time I saw purified beef tallow used and it worked. And sugar? Whatever you had on hand, which could mean brown or maple sugar. (What a hardship) Large granules means beat it longer. Flavoring? Any extract, grated citrus peel, cocoa, melted cooled chocolate, as long as it did not increase the liquid ratio by more that a dose of extract.
    As for the mixing part? Not so fussy as you. Dump the whole mess in the bowl at once and whip it. Actually, turn on the mixer and empty the dishwasher or something. It just loves that sort of abuse. Give it 5 or 10 minutes if you want. Take a dab and rub it between your fingers to see if the sugar dissolved and if it didn’t then go away and let it work. It dissolves better with the milk paste going straight in the bowl.
    And here is what is great. Unless you put something in there that is just too far out, it is good, really good, or fantastic.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      This reply is a year after you made the post, but I just happened to see it now, and I was so excited about what you wrote that I just had to reply. I have been using heritage frosting as my go-to frosting ever since I discovered it (a couple of posts before yours) and I love it, but!: — My mom used to make a frosting using egg yolks, which adds a richness and flavor that you really can’t duplicate with anything else (think about raw cookie dough, compared to the “safer” cookie dough made without eggs). Of course, this was in those days before everyone was so concerned with salmonella. I’ll confess that up until a few years ago I just went ahead and used her recipe with the raw eggs in it, but one of my children has a chronic disease and is immunocompromised now, and I can’t take that risk anymore.
      Our local stores don’t carry pasteurized eggs, and instructions for home pasteurization are pretty intimidatingly exacting. I did try, but I never managed to do it without curdling the eggs. So when I saw you write about all the substitutions that would work in the heritage frosting recipe I thought “Hmm. I wonder if I substitute egg yolks for some of the liquid (they’re a liquid, right?) then maybe, A) because they are dispersed into a relatively large volume of other liquid, and also, B) they are then whisked into the flour, thus further dispersing them, before they are heated; then maybe they can then be heated to a safe temperature without curdling.” So I tried it, aaand…. it worked! It made a really amazing frosting: silky, and rich, and delicious. And I really, really had to tell you about it, even if it is almost a year after your post.
      Thank you for helping me figure out a way to hang on to a taste tradition from my mom.


  57. Hi Joe! I hope you can help me. I made this recipe tonight and I can not seem to get the lumps out of the final product. I have beat it forever and still no success. Is there anything you could tell me that might help. I’m need it in a couple of days and I did not throw it ou in the hopes that you might be able to help me save it.

    1. Hi Melodi!

      It’s often touch rough looking, however if it’s very lumpy there’s not much you can do I’m sorry to say. However I’ve found that if you apply it, chill the cake with the frosting on it, then do a gentle smoothing/scraping of frosting with a long metal spatula, you can give it a more even finish. Best of luck with the project!

      – Joe

  58. Hi Joe, back on 4/8/13 a question was asked that I am also interested in hearing the answer.

    It was about using water instead of milk to make it non-hazardous (I don’t want to do that) but I wonder how hazardous this is anyway after cooking the milk with the flour and combining them with sugar (preservative) and butter has a very long shelf life. After making this recipe over 40 years, I have never refrigerated the cake afterwards. Sometimes it sits out for over a week covering only the cake part to keep it from drying out until our family of two devours it all.
    The hazard seems to be zero. What do you think?

    1. Hey Kristin!

      I guess I missed that! Thanks for raising this. I’m with you: I believe the risk of food borne illness in this frosting is extremely low, as it is with all non-egg frostings due to a.) the high fat which retards microbial growth and b.) the high sugar with kills/inactivates microbes. Raw eggs are one thing, but butter and milk (especially if it’s pasteurized milk) should not be a problem at all.

      Cheers and thanks again!

      – Joe

  59. How long can this frosting sit on the cake at an outside temperature before going bad?

    1. There’s nothing in it that should concern you much, Audrey. This frosting is routinely left out and on a cake for days. It certainly is in my house. Assuming the milk is pasteurized you should be in good shape!

      – Joe

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